Banking on ‘ATM freedom’

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PNC and Commerce are not alone in their restrictions.

Most banks adopting ATM reimbursement policies are offering them to fairly small target audiences, Mr. McBride said.

“This is a step for banks to retain the customers that maintain the highest balances and have multiple account relationships,” he said.

Local banks Chevy Chase Bank and Sandy Spring Bank reimburse customers for all ATM transactions if their multiple account packages maintain balances of $15,000 and $10,000, respectively. Limited free transactions per month are available to customers with smaller account packages at Chevy Chase.

National Capital Bank in the District offers limited monthly transactions to customers with account packages requiring minimum balances ranging from $5,000 to $15,000.

Reimbursing customers helps regional or local banks compete with larger banks that have ATMs across the country, Mr. McBride said.

“If that customer is traveling on the West Coast, they still have complete ATM freedom,” he said.

Though many banks in the Washington area offer reimbursement policies, they are still quite rare nationwide, Mr. McBride said.

Many, such as Bank of America, still charge for all use of competitors’ ATMs. And a more common practice is to waive the fee charged by the home bank, but not to reimburse the competitor’s fee.

But these policies also often come with limitations. One such bank, Wachovia, waives the fee for multiple account customers with an average account balance ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 depending on the account package.

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